Before listing 10 factors why David Lynch’s Dune (1984) is disliked by so many, it’s only fair to introduce the context of that decade.
It is known to all that Frank Herbert’s novel has influenced so much the genre of science fiction and especially that of space opera like “Star Wars”. However, Lynch’s “Dune” was released in theaters in 1984 and George Lucas‘ saga had already ended a year earlier with “Return of the Jedi”. Emperors, queens, chosen ones and much more had already been addressed by the various “Star Wars”, a trilogy that managed to be complex but also accessible to children.
After that, it is certain that “Dune” is a post-“Star Wars” product, since it productively fits exactly into the same genre and tries to ride that resounding success with the public. It will not go well for Lynch unlike Lucas‘ work. On the contrary, the cinematic failure will be remarkable because it cost 40 million, the film will gross thirty. For Hollywood, these results are a tragedy.
To make a comprehensive critical analysis, we should separate the critical response to the film’s release and the current consideration. This division is helpful in not making the mistake of judging “Dune” to be very kitschy just because cinematic taste has changed. What did the critics of that 1984 think of it?
I anticipate, they thought very badly indeed. Here are some snippets from the best-known critics of the time
The Globe and Mail (Toronto) – Jay Scott
When “Dune” is not inept, confusing, ridiculous or unpleasant, it’s boring. [14 Dec 1984, Washington Post – Rita Kempley]
David Lynch’s disastrous film adaptation of Fank Herbert’s science-fiction classic turns epic to myopic. [14 Dec 1984, Chicago Sun-Times – Roger Ebert]
This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time. All these reviews show that the film was already badly received at the time. Instead today, considering that Lynch is a Master of the seventh century recognized by everyone, how is the film considered? Simply a big mistake, for all the reasons that we will say in the next lines.
1. The Screenplay
Roger Ebert was right, it is a really problematic screenplay for as many reasons. One of all is the prolixity of the dialogues that try to explain all the mythology of the universe, failing miserably. It’s as if they wanted to fit the whole Frank Herbert novel into one film but we know that’s quite impossible. Sequence after sequence the viewer is forced to endure an endless series of dialogues that should make the film complex. Instead they just make it very boring.
2. David Lynch
He is certainly a gigantic filmmaker and here we reaffirm that, but not all directors have the ability to leave their comfort zone and explore different genres. Not everyone is Spielberg. Lynch is great when he tackles a verisimilar context infused with his surrealism, whereas in such a fantastical, adventurous context he has very little to say.
3. Visual effects
We are in 1984 and we are aware of it, however what is missing are some visual insights that would make some elements better. I’m referring to the power of the shield. So tasteless as to be fake even in 1984.
4. The characters
“Dune”, in Lynch’s film, is a tale of the elect, queens and galactic emperors but they are all locked into their stereotypes and face a truly classic journey. The script just can’t build a character that is memorable and the staging doesn’t have much breathing room, with the exception of a few sequences.
Lynch loves to drive actors to the brink of over acting and we know from “Twin Peaks” and more that he does it very well. In “Dune”, however, this aspect is definitely up and down, I refer especially to the death of the Baron. Something really kitschy, especially today.
6. The Voice Over
It is a method that should deepen the thoughts of the character, that should anticipate what he will do and in fact it is so. “Dune” emphasizes this aspect a lot and is repeated many times. In addition it often has the opposite effect and ruins the taste of knowing what a character will decide in a situation.
7. The Hero’s Journey
Paul is the protagonist and is the most explored character in “Dune”. There is nothing wrong with that, however it is a serious mistake to make all the supporting characters exclusively in support of the protagonist. In “Dune” you often get this feeling.
8. Consistency in costumes
Although a good job has been done overall, some characters are dressed in a way totally at odds with the context that resulted out of place. This is the case, for example, of the villain Feyd Rautha Harkonnen, who seems to have come out of “Blade Runner” (1982).
9. Female representation
Also in this aspect it is right to remind us that we are in 1984 but Princess Leia is a character of an incredible complexity compared to all the women in “Dune” who are mothers, sisters or girlfriends. They are involved only to help the protagonist and there is not the slightest commitment to a treatment of their desires or ambitions, their personality. They exist only to help the protagonist and are always in agreement with him.
10. The Rhythm
In an adventure the pace, marked by the script and editing, is essential to spend more than a couple of hours without getting bored. “Dune”, on the other hand, tries in every way to make you abandon the vision because it never finds a good balance.
Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” has realized that one of the biggest flaws of Lynch’s film is the presumption of adapting the entire novel. In fact, the upcoming film starring Timothée Chalamet will only deal with the first part of the novel, thus taking all the time necessary to delve into the characters and mythology.
In addition, we believe that Paul’s conflict will be much more vivid and powerful, since the trailer seems to have insisted a lot on this aspect. Remember that “Dune” will be released in theaters in September. We are waiting for it so much.